What Sort Of Record Does Your Band Need?

YYour band has been rehearsing for months; you’ve gotten super tight, you’ve written some killer songs and now you’re thinking of heading into the studio to cut some tracks.

Well, that’s great and all, but have you really thought about…

  • Who the market for those songs is?
  • How much you’d want to sell them for (if you’re selling them at all)?
  • Whether these recordings are going to be used to get you gigs, or are to be read as your definitive artistic statement for the next six months to three years?

I ask, because in my experience, recording is something that even a number of fairly experienced bands just plain don’t seem to get. I’ve seen groups sink hundreds (sometimes thousands) into producing what is nothing more than an expensive demo tape. Conversely, I’ve seen bands trying to pass off, what in reality, is nothing more than a glorified demo as a bona fide album product.

Recording can get really expensive really quickly, and if your band goes for the wrong recording option in the first instance, chances are that you’ll end up back in the studio within the space of a few months; forking out more money to get what you were after the first time.

So what should you be thinking of when you’re planning to record? Well, the first big question is…

Are you making a demo, or are you making a product?

Now, you response to that may well be “what’s the difference?” A fairly big one as it transpires. Allow me to demonstrate…


Demo CDs

Your average demo recording is a perfunctory document of your songs. It’s there for your band to reference, for promoters interested in booking your band to hear what you sound like, and for prospective fans interested in coming to see your band to do the same. It should be of a certain standard (i.e clear and audible), but probably won’t be of such a standard that you can sell it for any real money.

Chances are that you’ll give these out, burnt onto CDRs and packaged in photocopied sleeves, in exchange for email addresses (for your mailing list) at your gigs. If you are going to charge for them, it’ll be for some spare change to cover the cost of blank discs and photocopying. In terms of production, you did it at home with some basic recording software, recorded a no-frills ‘live’ session at a local studio, or got a soundboard source from one of your gigs.

Whatever the origin, your demo shouldn’t have cost you more than a couple of hundred $/£ and it’s definitely not something that you’re looking to profit from.


Image credit: behance.net

As the name suggests, the main thing that differentiates a product from a demo is that you can actually sell it. A product can be of any length from a four track EP to a 30 song double album. Unlike a demo, which is designed to give audiences a feel for your sound, a product should represent the best of your repertoire, recorded to highest possible standard. If you’ve got some recording skills/equipment, then you may still be able to do this at home, although chances are that you’ll want to get it mixed and mastered professionally. If home recording isn’t your bag, then it’s time to visit the recording studio and spend (depending on the length of your record) four days to a couple of months putting down your songs.

Once the recording is finished, it will need to be packaged to the same standard as the kind of albums that you’d buy from a high street record shop. How much you paid for the recording (probably hundreds to a couple of thousand depending on what you went for) will inform what you charge for the product, but the average retail price of the high street equivalent is probably a good benchmark.

Those are the distinctions. If you’re still not sure what you’re after though, here are three questions you can ask yourself to make it clear:

  1. How many people will buy your product?
  2. Ok, that’s a pretty much impossible first question to answer, but there are ways to take an educated guess. E-mail the people on your mailing list and ask them if they would be interested in buying an EP or album. Ask people at your gigs the same question. Then work out how many units of your product you would have to sell to break even based on the projected costs of recording and packaging. If you can’t see yourself breaking even in the near future, then you should probably hold off recording a product for the time being.

  3. Which of your songs are you going to record?
  4. Have you written enough songs that you can discern which are your strongest and which are your weakest? Going into the studio to record the first four songs that your band has written will typically prove to be a mistake. Chances are that as you evolve, those songs will either morph into something different or be dropped from you set altogether, leaving you with an expensive product that is entirely unrepresentative of your current sound.

    Ideally, you want to have a selection of songs that you can whittle down to the absolute cream of the crop. If you don’t think that the planned track list for your next album is the greatest collection of tunes since Led Zep II, then you’re probably not ready to record a product.

  5. How do you want your product to sound? (Hint: the answer is not ‘good’ or ‘loud’)

Do you know whether your band would sound better recording live in a room, or by layering individual tracks? Do you want your drums to have that super-roomy John Bonham feel or a super tight closed-mic Ian Paice vibe?

This one kind of follows on from the “know your material” point. Your band needs to feel confident on how they want to be projected on record. Unlike your demo, which merely needs to be audible, a good record will have a distinctive ‘sound’ that is appropriate to your band’s material. You don’t want to come out of the studio with a thrash metal production job if your goal was to be the next Thin Lizzy. Of course, a big part of this is finding the right producers and mixers. In order to do that, though, you need to have a basic idea of the sonic direction that you want the recording to take.

Recording an album or EP might make you feel like a real rock and roll band, but remember that it’s an expensive process. Unless you know what you want, and know that you can sell it, then it’s probably something to hold off on for a while. Get out there gigging, work on your songs and build up your fanbase and, before you know it, you’ll have a clearer idea on what your product needs to be.

Alec Plowman is writing a PhD thesis on liveness in rock music at the University of East Anglia. He is also a freelance media journalist, musician, and collector of Star Wars memorabilia. Check out his blog at www.alecplowman.com